Not long ago, Isaac Asimov’s iconic novel series, Foundation, seemed unlikely to be adapted into a film or TV series due to the constant passing of adaptation rights between various teams, including a brief stint with Roland Emmerich. Concerns arose at the time regarding Emmerich’s ability to deliver a quality adaptation, given his recent film 2012 which had received mixed reviews. In hindsight, Foundation’s delay in development turned out to be a positive outcome, with Apple acquiring the rights in 2020 for its Apple TV+ streaming service.

Although I haven’t seen beyond the first episode, those within my social circle who have seen the entire first season have indicated it is a solid adaptation. There are some changes that were made for the Foundation TV series which included changing two characters1 and introducing the Galactic Emperor2.

With Foundation in capable hands, it raises the question of whether Apple might consider adapting more of Asimov’s works, such as The Caves of Steel.

The Caves of Steel

The Caves of Steel serves as the inaugural installment in a series chronicling the endeavors of Elijah Bailey, an undercover investigator hailing from Earth. His partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, accompanies him on a journey marked by an intricate murder case set against a future Earth, positioned three millennia ahead, where the populace resides in subterranean cities due to overpopulation. This narrative landscape unfolds with the backdrop of established interplanetary travel and human colonization of 50 distant worlds, creating a division between Earth-based humans and affluent Spacer inhabitants.

The Spacers lead lavish lives, benefitting from robot labor and restrictions on population growth. As a result of their wealth, the Spacers have taken a position of superiority over the Earth-based humans. Conversely, the Earth inhabitants are wary of robots and navigate life within enclosed and undeground cities. The plot unfurls with the murder of a Spacer Ambassador on Earth, prompting the chief of police to assign Elijah to the case, assigning Daneel as his partner.

Caves of Steel (BBC)

What adds a captivating dimension to this pairing is the fact that Daneel is a humanoid robot, visually indistinguishable from a regular human. This dynamic introduces an intriguing complexity to the narrative, especially considering humanity’s prevailing anti-robot sentiments. As Elijah and Daneel investigate the murder of the ambassador, they reveal layers of intricacies in a detective tale woven with science fiction nuances. This series encompasses four full-length novels and a short story that continue the partnership between Elijah and Daneel as they explore other cases together.

Background on The Caves of Steel

Asimov is most commonly known for his other works, such as the Foundation series, his series of stories about robots, and the introduction of the “Three Laws of Robotics.” I feel as though The Caves of Steel are a lesser known series given that there considerable interest in adapting it in any form - although the BBC apparently adapted The Caves of Steel as part of an anthology series in the 1960s starring Peter Cushing3 as Elijah Bailey4.

The interesting thing about Caves of Steel is the nature of its origin as a science fiction mystery story was a deviation from Asimov’s typical style. The tale’s inception can be traced back to a challenge issued by his editor at Astounding Science Fiction, John W. Campbell. Campbell claimed that a science fiction mystery story would falter due to technology acting as a deus ex machina instead of allowing the detective’s deduction skills to shine. Isaac Asimov took this challenge to heart and went on to not only meet but exceed expectations. The result was a well-crafted series of stories with intriguing characters, enigmatic plotlines, and even socio-cultural commentary on various topics - from robots’ roles in human society to overpopulation, agoraphobia, and the human condition itself. The Caves of Steel presents an engaging narrative replete with thought-provoking themes.


When reading Caves of Steel for the first time I was immediately reminded of Hideo Kojima’s games Snatcher and Policenauts, which I had played a few months prior. These titles, inspired by Blade Runner and Lethal Weapon, presented intriguing futuristic stories involving investigators unraveling mysteries.

Snatcher is set in a post-biological warfare mid-21st century, with Snatchers — humanoid robots posing as humans - and Junkers - the individuals tasked with hunting down the Snatchers - echoing Blade Runner’s themes.

Policenauts, while sharing aesthetics with Lethal Weapon5, ventures further into sci-fi and cyberpunk, offering a complex narrative surrounding a missing persons case within a space-colony^[5] that eventually leads to a larger conspiracy.

These games, although inspired, craft unique explorations of a futuristic Earth through science fiction and compelling storytelling.

It’s disappointing that Hideo Kojima, an admirer of science fiction, never delved into a video game adaptation of the rich and unexplored potential within Isaac Asimov’s Cave of Steel novel. When considering his remarkable contributions with titles like Snatchers and Policenauts, the intriguing concepts within Asimov’s novels could have been a perfect match. One might speculate that perhaps Kojima was not exposed to Asimov’s works in his youth as Kojima has indicated that he has drawn inspiration predominantly from the realm of film.

On a related note, with the resounding success of Apple’s TV+ adaptation of Foundation, one might hope for a similar treatment of Asimov’s Caves of Steel in the future. Although there is ample opportunity for exploration, perhaps hesitation stems from the failures of past shows, such as Almost Human, a 2013 show that shared thematic elements with Caves of Steel, but lasted only a single season. The potential of a Caves of Steel adaptation, however, remains undeniably tantalizing.

  1. Gaal Dornick and Salvor Hardin, both of whom are portrayed as male in the novel are now female. ↩︎

  2. In the original book, the Galactic Emperor was briefly mentioned, but the adaptation has given this character a more significant role with an intriguing twist. In the adaptation, the Emperor takes the form of a trio composed of genetic clones of Emperor Cleon the First. This trio includes Brother Day, the present reigning Emperor in his middle age, Brother Dust, the eldest member who was previously the Emperor and has retired, and Brother Dawn, the youngest of the three who is being groomed as the successor to Brother Day. This expansion adds complexity and depth to the Emperor’s character dynamics within the story. ↩︎

  3. Although Peter Cushing was a reknowned actor modern audiences will recognize him from his role as Star Wars’ Grand Moff Tarkin. ↩︎

  4. Apparently the adaptation was mostly faithful with the differences being the conclusion and that one character was changed from male to female. It is unfortunate but this adaptation appears to be lost as there doesn’t appear to be any full copies of the show in existence. ↩︎

  5. In Policenauts, the protagonist Jonathan closely resembles Lethal Weapon’s Riggs, while his best friend Ed has a striking resemblance to Murtaugh. ↩︎